"Who, if I cried, in the hierarchy of angels would hear me?" Rainier Maria Rilke

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Grown-Ass Man

Grown-Ass Man December 25, 2017

Today it is a quiet, snow-dusted Christmas in the Pacific Northwest. Last night a good friend came over and we sat in the hot tub as the snow fell on us, then ate a home-cooked meal and sat in front of the wood stove catching up and trading healing techniques and stories. Today I have off, so that’s good.
Yesterday, I went to an Alanon meeting because I like to fix people. I rarely want to leave them alone in their misery. Whether or not they ask for my help. So today I come to you with a problem I’ve never had before, although others have struggled with it for decades. There’s a man sitting ten feet away from me in the living room of this temporarily rented house , a grown man of six feet and probably 280 lbs with three kids and a can’t wait to be ex-wife, and he’s playing violent video games. Worse, he’s playing them out loud with a friend on the phone.
“Yeah, I’ve got an Uzi and a six-millimeter. Don’t worry, I had a few energy drinks.” When I tried to talk to him earlier, he chatted for a minute and then said, “I’m putting the headphones back on; I need to be able to listen for footsteps.”
Dude, your wife is leaving you, you’re unemployed and somewhat broke, and a good hundred pounds overweight. Is this really what you want to do with your time? Even if all of that is ok with you, the state of this country right now, and you can’t think of anything better to do than vape weed and play teenaged games of killing whoever you can? I walk over to that side of the room now and again and see the dead bodies laying on the screen, I see his avatar of the fit soldier standing over them. He looks nothing like that.
He is chuckling now about being killed. I guess that’s better than being upset. “Kill the fucker on the bike. “ The conversation is killing me. As a practicing reader and empath, I don’t really want to live with someone who is actively and for hours imagining himself mowing people down with Uzis. He is the textbook caricature of the man who eventually picks up an Uzi because he makes no money and the wife and kids are gone. Except that his wife lets him see the kids, in fact depends on him for childcare, so I feel confident I won’t be killed in my sleep between now and June. Still, the mental contructs of murder flying around the house are not entertaining. Nor am I amused that this is the most animated I’ve seen him.
Mind you, until recently, what I did for fun and escape was watch cop shows about murder and solving cases. I ask myself what’s different about that. Here’s my answer: I spend the hour of the show identifying with the District Attorney or the detective, who are ostensibly trying their very hardest to protect the innocent. Not with the fellow who is running around trying to kill everyone.
If your best response to the state the world or your life is in right now is to spend money you barely have to use electricity and take up spaced fantasizing about being a soldier when you couldn’t make a ten mile hike with 50 pounds on your back if your life depended on it, I have no respect for you. Get up out of the chair and do something befitting an adult, not a child, and maybe your wife will want you back.
Ok, off to Alanon where they will scold me in a properly oblique fashion about my judgementalness and detachment and minding my own business.
But I swear I’d be so happy if video games were just outlawed. I am old enough to remember when pinball machines were the ticket; I spent hours on them. For one thing, you had to stand. And there were physical little metal balls, we weren’t playing with widgets. I remember when Pong arrived; it was fun for a while and then I went back to pinball. I remember when Pac-Man arrived. I spent hours on it avoiding a crucial decision and crucial work in my life. As I recall, it taught me way less than the hours and years I spent avoiding that same work in the drug life of the streets. I am more ashamed of those hours on Pac-Man as being completely soul-deadening. Running the streets doing drugs at least has you interacting with actual people.


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The Power of Fox News

The power of Fox News(sic) came home to me yesterday in a subtly disturbing way, at the gym, where I wish I could say I least expected it. But in fact where I see its reach every day, the at least two tvs tuned to it reminding me that even in liberal, Democratic Seattle, it has a stronghold and a following.
I was on the treadmill, watching CNN, when the manager of the LA Fitness approached me on my right to discuss an incident which had happened at the front desk. He had his best customer service face on, and seemed genuinely to want to make my experience more pleasant. He came right out and said, “I’m Josh, is there a problem? Can you tell me what’s the matter?”
I paused the treadmill and turned to look at him. “Well the problem is your front desk worker Armando is incredibly rude. I’ll tell you what happened. I thought all the TVs were set to sports or Fox News; it turns out I was mistaken about this one-it must have been on a commercial when I was looking-but I went downstairs to ask if they would change one of the TVs to CNN or MSNBC like there’d always been here before. Armando said they couldn’t do that and I would have to wait for the manager to arrive “later” because they didn’t have the controls at the front desk. I told him I didn’t believe that, that it wasn’t true, I was certain he could change the channels. He said you can talk to the manager when he gets here, without saying when that might be.
I asked him his name. He said, “Armando something, would you like me to write that down.” I said yes, please. He said,” too bad I don’t feel like writing it down, and I’m not going to. What’s your name.”
At this point the manager interrupted and said, “that’s way too far” and I said yes I agree, that was no way to talk to a customer no matter what they’d said. The manager said, “you can always go to the front desk and ask them to change the channel” and I said, “that’s where I was, at the front desk. He said he couldn’t.” The manager got a queasy look on his face and said “I’ll deal with him. And I’m sorry that happened to you. That’s just not true. And he shouldn’t have talked to you that way.”
Here’s the story, though. The above story might be about the invisibility of grey-haired women who aren’t wearing a lot of gold on their fingers. The real story is this: as soon as the manager walked off, the man on the treadmill next to me took his headphones off and said, “Excuse me, am I in danger? I see there’s an issue.” I said “why would you be in danger, I’m just talking to the manager about his staff member being rude. What could that possibly have to do with you?”
He said, “well, anytime I see a disturbance, I check to make sure it doesn’t represent a physical threat to my safety. “ I said ,”no physical threats, just customer service complaint. I was tired of the TVs all being on Fox News and wanted one changed back to MSNBC or CNN and the kid at the front desk couldn’t be bothered. I’m not going to punch him if that’s what you mean. We’re just talking.” The man interrupted me to say “I don’t want to nose into your business, I just thought I might be physically in danger.” Mind you, neither of us had looked at him. “And by the way, I have the opposite problem, I’m sick of being forced to watch CNN and MSNBC and I ask them to change it to Fox and they won’t do that either.”
I told him, “sir, rest assured, if your physical safety is in jeopardy standing right next to me, I will tell you” He said, “thank you, that’s very good to know. That makes me feel better”. Begging the question of why I would continue to putter along on the treadmill watching the news if there were a credible threat to safety.
It occurred to me fairly quickly that these two things were connected. Fox News. Threat to safety. Maybe he heard the Latin name “Armando” being earnestly discussed by two Caucasians and decided it must be a bomb threat, or a suspected anthrax attack on the towels or the water in the pool. Or worse, the water fountain. It occurred to me that this is the state Fox News watchers are constantly in; that Latino kid at the front counter might be part of a sleeper cell. He might be selling my daughter coke or laying in wait in the parking lot to abduct and rape her. What a way to live, and no wonder they make poor choices. The earmuff headphones he was wearing all of a sudden looked like a much more ominous representation of his blocking out the real world and only letting in select information which he only agreed with. Lest you think I do the same, I regularly do look at Fox News in short bursts to keep up with what lies they’re spreading.
His concern was bombs or terror. My concern was the perennial favorite: darn those young kids, don’t they know when I was their age you’d get fired for saying that, there’s no customer service in Seattle, ever since grunge, blah blah blah middle-aged disgruntled person feeling slighted. What different worlds we live in. Fox News, do you know what a world you’ve created, when a customer service complaint in an almost suburban gym(Shoreline) can look to one of your faithful like an orange alert possible terrorist incident?
There was no further communication between me and the gentleman on my left. He departed for the showers shortly after. I wonder if he reported this suspicious incident somewhere. Middle-aged Jewish woman in scruffy gym clothes talking animatedly to gym manager of unknown descent, possibly Caucasian, possibly mixed. There was no further communication between me and the rude kid at the desk-I say kid because I can’t call him a boy and I won’t call him a man. I did let his cohort who had stood silently through our exchange, except to introject “that’s right” about not changing channels, know on the way out that the manager told me they were both lying, that the channels could be changed. Armando was probably in a closed room being scolded when I left. Maybe being fired.
My wish is that this country will change channels. That somehow we could be transported back to a time when news had to bear some relation to the facts. Right now I’d rather watch the news as delivered by Kevin Ryerson or John Edwards channeling the spirit of Walter Cronkite or Haywood Hale Broun than any Fox News infonews commentator. But I will continue to turn Fox on in five minute intervals, so I have some clue what my neighbors at the gym might be thinking. Otherwise, I might not have had even a guess as to what he was talking about. Maybe next time I see him, I’ll play with that a bit. “Shhh, did you hear that?” Or , “do you smell anything, what’s that smell?” combined with a worried look might really wind that gentleman up. But no, I won’t do that. I want these people to calm down their paranoia about imagined threats, recover their actual patriotism from the depths of the gutters it has sunk to and recognize and respond to the actual attacks on our country which are currently being investigated or have already succeeded. Russia. American oligarchs. The looting of our public lands by those who need it the least. The decimation of our health care and education. The hostile takeover and dismantling of all of our regulatory agencies, especially the EPA and the Parks Service.  You know, real and present dangers.

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Thoughts on Facebook(on leaving Facebook)

Last night I deactivated my facebook account after five years of being fairly active there. I slept well! Today I have had several meaningful and long conversations in real time with live people, and I received a few ebullient texts from people who wanted to say “atta girl” and check in with me about how life after facebook is treating me.

I discovered a few things, so far. One, that the world didn’t end. Two, that people who really want to reach me actually do it quicker and with less fuss. Three, that it is so much easier to tell who actually wants to reach me and have meaningful interaction rather than bragging, fronting, selling me a product, concept or cause. Four, that anyone at all who is empathic or psychically sensitive might just face sensory overwhelm on facebook.

I also had time to ponder what the addictive ingredient is in facecrack. One idea that surfaced is that we have become a nation of grown children whose parents both worked entirely too many hours. We feel we never got enough mirroring and approval as kids, so we love, even well into our fifties, signing on somewhere we can post pics of ourselves, our pets, our projects, our meals, our yards, our cars, and get told that people “like” it/them/us. We can get that instant approval. We can vie for fabulousness and popularity and visibility in the way that used to be reserved for high school girls. What 10th grader in the 80s didn’t want a “friend count” to prove how cool she was?  We get to cut people off in that same way junior high school students used to : “Oh her? She used to be my friend but now I’m not talking to her.” It is a big junior high where people get to act out and brag and bully and backbite. That’s my feeling today, and I feel relieved to be out of it.
There were many positive moments; early morning chats with friends on the east coast or in England; quick question and answer sessions about recipes; check-ins with neighbors and relatives I’ve not seen in decades; heartwarming story posts. But so much of it baffled me. Today I felt as if I have been playing naked in the street, and only now thought to go inside and put on some clothes. It is quiet and peaceful here. I do not need to share everything with everyone. I do not need to comment on anyone else’s day/beliefs/politics/religion/thoughts. I do not need to wish someone I’ve not seen in years a happy birthday and be asked to buy them a gift card.

Perhaps I’ll sell my facebook stock. More later.

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What is Healing? Radical and Mostly Useless Thoughts.

This is a funny question for me to pose. I work in the healing arts, both as a massage therapist and as an energy worker. One of the questions that we were asked in massage school has never left me: “What is your vision of what you do and how it fits into society as a whole? Are you healing people who can afford it as a luxury service, or are you part of a larger picture of creating a healthier community and making massage available to all?” Most of us answered this question practically for ourselves by sheepishly allowing that we would mostly work on those who could afford us, and appease our consciences by doing some pro bono work for the less fortunate. We bemoaned the system which made it so, that the people who most need massage often have least access to it, but we did not fight that system as it paid our bills. A lingering discomfort with these stark realities informs our work for many of us.
Many of us give away a fair amount of work to those who cannot afford it at all, but more often we simply shrug our shoulders and give up.
My question about healing is this: Does it really constitute healing if it only treats the privileged few, and does not address larger societal ills? Are anyone’s illnesses really in a vacuum and particular to them? Can I help with caretaking the many people I am suddenly hearing have cancer without also becoming active in working against the poisoning of our water and air and food? Who has time for all this holistic, systemic thinking and action?
Is it healing to alleviate symptoms, or only if you address causes? Is it in fact my job to patch people back up from tendonitis and carpal tunnel so that they might go back to mindless 12 hour days of keyboarding in the service of industries which are destroying the planet?
These are the things I wonder when I drive by people camping in tents in winter under a freeway underpass on my way to do massage on executives and highly paid IT workers. They have not changed over the years, but my faith that by doing my small part I move society towards a healthier place has taken a beating.

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On Help And Helping

The question has arisen from several sides lately regarding what is help, when to seek help, when help is not helpful but hindering. Some of this depends on the agenda of the person helping: do they wish to move you forward in your life, do they wish to impart information you don’t have and alleviate unnecessary suffering? Or are they trying to lessen your pain so you quit taking it out on everyone else but aside from that have no real interest in your well-being? All of these are fine, I think, although the last one will leave you feeling a little odd as the motive is nothing to do with you.
What does not work and only backfires is the “helping” which is predicated on the need of the helper to be useful and to perceive him or herself as better or one-up on the helpee. It draws us into the Karpman drama triangle, where the helped person must be viewed as victim, there must be a persecutor, and the rescuer is more likely than not to take on the persecutor role at some point. Equally often, the victim gets tired of being considered victim and flips into persecuting the rescuer.
All very messy. Feelings are hurt all the way around and no real resolution occurs. Generally, everyone walks away with whatever world view they held going in feeling confirmed for them, and everyone feeling ill-used.
Real help by contrast feels supportive and freeing. It is something you are at liberty to respectfully decline. It adds to your power rather than taking away from it. These are people who ask first, “would you like help or feedback with that or are you just wanting me to listen” before they volunteer solutions or step in to do anything on your behalf.
Another “help” issue which has arisen for me lately is when to ask for help in areas I consider my own specialty-when, in other words, to admit that personally I’m in over my head and become willing to accept help.
I had a steep and good learning curve with that this morning. (Thank you, Ed!). No matter how gifted a healer one is, there is a time and a place to turn to others and accept assistance. I am most grateful this finally occurred to me today.

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The Gift of Death




The gift of death.
Recently I heard, through facebook of course, about the death of one of my oldest friends

and surrogate mother. She knew me from the age of about two, at least until the last few years, when she didn’t know me at all and asked her husband “who is that, why did you bring her here? I don’t like her.” I wept. The last time I saw her she was asleep and while the nurses asked if they should wake her up, I said no, she will only yell at me. Then I wept again, right there in the hall of the nursing home. As I did not cry for my own mother.
This was the woman who first told me it wasn’t my fault my mother was sick; that I was not crazy, that I was a good person. She was the only one for some time.

I felt her death as an inconsolable loss, although she was 91. Then I started reading The Fifth Agreement, by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz and in the process of that reading realized that Lil’s death is a gift to me.(besides the fact that it is about her and not

about me at all.) The end of life of one of the people who has held my story the longest means that parts of my story are forgotten, but it also gives me an opportunity to let go of the story I have come to identify as me.

To Lil, I was poor Amel, the girl who is always so quiet and so polite and so grown and

so alone. The girl with the sick mother who is awkward and doesn’t have friends(except that tomboy, what was her name? Amel, how is Nancy?). Her story about herself, as a housewife who only used her Masters in Social Work for one year of married life, was that she cared about the downtrodden and rescued hopeless cases. I was downtrodden. While it was very comforting to have a rescuer, someone who saw me as needing to escape my mother’s clutches and sickness, someone deserving of love and pity, it also entrapped me. She did not see me as someone who could actually escape, just as someone

who was put upon and sad. She never once gave me nice clothing, any more than my mother did. There was nary a birthday or Hannukah gift; she bought my mother’s line completely that nice things were not for her children. She did take me to the symphony a few times, but there was never a shirt or a sweater or a piece of jewelry like you might give a girl child you called close as relative to you. I had never thought of this, until I wondered why I’d never sent her a present, except for one bouquet of flowers. And a Medicine Buddha talisman, which she scoffed at.

Now that Lil is gone, I have an opportunity to stop being “poor Amel” who needs a rescuer and someone to feel sorry for her. I am not the girl with the sick mother who is always a little out of place and underdressed and too quiet for her own good. I am not the trapped one who only has friends who feel sorry for her. I may even be deserving of nice clothes, not from Artie’s Secondhand and Irregulars(it doesn’t matter, you can hardly see it) clothing store, but from this year’s rack of new designs. Maybe. Maybe I will have friends who do not think they are doing a public service by befriending me; who can enjoy my company without thinking they are saving me from someone else who has done me wrong. That would be nice. Who are not trying to be a hero; who are not trying to be anything but who they authentically are.